Woolly Wordings 2

Before the common use of ‘portable’ electricity or batteries, the law enforcement community used a somewhat compact device known as a dark lantern to illumine a path in the nocturnal hours, and Sherlock Holmes used this clever device on many occasions. Watson mentions it by name in six stories: ‘The Red-Headed League,’ ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band,’ ‘The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton,’ ‘The Adventure of the Six Napoleons,’ ‘The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans,’ and ‘The Adventure of Shoscombe Old Place.’ In ‘The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge,’ Watson mentions a pocket lantern. In ‘The Valley of Fear,’ Inspector MacDonald mentions that professor Moriarty used a reflector lantern to help explain an eclipse. The police use a lantern in four other tales, but we can only speculate on the type of lantern employed on those occasions. Also, in six further occurrences, private citizens carried a lantern, but the reader must conjecture on whether these were the bulky kind though sometimes the descriptions lead one to believe they are the larger variety. All of these lamps used some form of liquid fuel directed into a lit wick to operate.

Dark Lantern image from US Handcuffs

Pocket lantern image from Prices4Antiques

By Athanasius Kircher [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Optic Projection fig 404

The bell-rope or bell-pull featured prominently in ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band,’ but you may not know its normal use. The bell-rope was typically a decorative rope attached to a mechanical rope network ending with bells located in the servants’ quarters, which called them to a specific room based upon which bell was ringing. In ‘The Adventure of the Speckled Band’, Sherlock Holmes says, “and to the rope – for so we may call it, since it was clearly never meant for a bell-pull” for it ended at the ceiling! This summoning tool is also mentioned in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ ‘The Naval Treaty,’ and ‘The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.’

James Gillray [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I hope you enjoyed this little adventure into the world of Sherlock Holmes.

NEXT WEEK: Sherlock Holmes’ Drug Use


The Napoleon of Crime

Sherlock Holmes called Professor James Moriarty “the Napoleon of crime” in ‘The Final Problem’ and a “Napoleon-gone-wrong” in ‘The Valley of Fear.’  Here are some interesting facts:

  • Professor Moriarty wrote a treatise on the Binomial Theorem and the book ‘The Dynamics of an Asteroid,’ and he won accolades for both.
  • Professor Moriarty has a brother Colonel Moriarty (also named James) and a younger brother who is a station-master in the West of England.  Exactly how many brothers are there?
  • His chief of the staff is one Colonel Sebastian Moran who Holmes caught upon returning to London in 1894 after his great hiatus.
  • He was created to become the foe who would eventually destroy Holmes and allow Conan Doyle to spend more time on other pursuits, but the reading public would have none of that.
  • The very real Adam Worth was called “the Napoleon of the criminal world” by the very real Scotland Yard detective Robert Anderson (later Sir Robert Anderson), and Worth may have been the model for Moriarty.

NEXT WEEK: More Woolly Wording

Can Sherlock Holmes Read Minds?

Right now, you may be thinking of the episode at the beginning of ‘The Cardboard Box’ (and duplicated in the American versions of ‘The Resident Patient’) where Holmes deduces Watson’s thoughts from the latter’s brown study. Please forgive the pun but I have a case in mind rather than a box. In ‘A Case of Identity’ the greatest mystery comes not from the plot, but how does Holmes know the day of the wedding? Does it strike you as odd that Sherlock Holmes is the first to mention that the wedding is set for Friday? The only prior clue as to the day of the week lies in the fact that a letter was returned on the day of the wedding, so Sunday could be ruled out. Here is the relevant part of the passage from the story:

“Well, and what happened when Mr. Windibank, your stepfather, returned to France?”

“Mr. Hosmer Angel came to the house again, and proposed that we should marry before father came back. He was in dreadful earnest, and made me swear, with my hands on the Testament, that whatever happened I would always be true to him. Mother said he was quite right to make me swear, and that it was a sign of his passion. Mother was all in his favour from the first, and was even fonder of him than I was. Then, when they talked of marrying within the week, I began to ask about father; but they both said never to mind about father, but just to tell him afterwards, and mother said she would make it all right with him. I didn’t quite like that, Mr. Holmes. It seemed funny that I should ask his leave, as he was only a few years older than me; but I didn’t want to do anything on the sly, so I wrote to father at Bordeaux, where the Company has its French offices, but the letter came back to me on the very morning of the wedding.”

“It missed him then?”

“Yes, sir, for he had started to England just before it arrived.”

“Ha! that was unfortunate. Your wedding was arranged, then, for the Friday. Was it to be in church?”

“Yes, sir, but very quietly. It was to be at St. Saviour’s, near King’s Cross, and we were to have breakfast afterwards at the St. Pancras Hotel. Hosmer came for us in a hansom, but as there were two of us, he put us both into it, and stepped himself into a four-wheeler which happened to be the only other cab in the street. We got to the church first, and when the four-wheeler drove up we waited for him to step out, but he never did, and when the cabman got down from the box and looked, there was no one there! The cabman said he could not imagine what had become of him, for he had seen him get in with his own eyes. That was last Friday, Mr. Holmes, and I have never seen or heard anything since then to throw any light upon what became of him.”

“It seems to me that you have been very shamefully treated,” said Holmes.

Perhaps Watson was right when he said to Holmes in ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ “You would certainly have been burned had you lived a few centuries ago.” What do you make of it?

NEXT WEEK: The Napoleon of crime.

The Naming of John H. Watson, M.D.

Is it possible to discover Watson’s full name? Ormond Sacker is crossed out and replaced with John H. Watson, M.D. in the original notes for what eventually became part of the title of chapter one of ‘A Study in Scarlet’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle{1}, and the only other time the latter name appears in the stories is early in ‘The Problem of Thor Bridge.’ Perhaps, as Dorothy L. Sayers first speculated, the H stands for Hamish – Scottish for James – which would explain why Watson’s wife called him James in ‘The Man with the Twisted Lip.’ Could it be a coincidence that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle knew a man named Dr. James Watson{2}? These three occurrences are the only times the character is called something other than just Watson. No wonder no one seems to know his full name.

The reader finds out early in ‘The Sign of Four’ something about Watson’s family. Both his deceased older brother’s first initial and his deceased father’s first initial are H. Perhaps the following list of names, which appear in the stories, could provide some insight into the three Watson’s name(s) beginning with H:

Francis Hay Moulton in ‘The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor’
Henry Ward Beecher in ‘The Cardboard Box’ (whom Watson admired enough to have his portrait on the wall)
John Hector McFarlane ‘The Adventure of the Norwood Builder’
John Hopley Neligan in ‘The Adventure of Black Peter’
Arthur H. Staunton ‘The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter’
James H. Scott in ‘The Valley of Fear’

We may never know Watson’s full name, but it may be just as well because the speculation can continue unhindered. What is your opinion on the matter?

1. Conan Doyle Manuscripts: A Study in Scarlet, compiled by Randall Stock

2. Elementary, my dear brother: The case of the Masonic career of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is investigated by Yasha Beresiner

NEXT WEEK: Can Sherlock Holmes read minds?